How to Style Long Open Shelves

Creating barriers, mixing styles, and using diagonals.

24 February 2020 -

There are a few topics we could never talk about enough on this blog, and shelf styling is probably on the top of that list. Not only are there so many different ways to do it, but each type of shelving brings a new challenge.

In one of our most recent projects, we had these long, deep, open shelves on either side of the fireplace. When our team started working with them, one of the first things we considered was how to make barriers for the objects. When we style smaller, closed shelves, the doors create natural sections, but in this case, we had a blank slate.

Here’s how we styled these long, open shelves:


Like so much of our work, our approach to shelf styling is very much intuitive. But just because we go with our gut rather than follow a recipe, it doesn’t mean there aren’t patterns in the ingredients we use from project to project.

One of those patterns for our lead stylist, Kristine Metcalf, is visualizing each shelf both separately and as a pair.

“I think about shelves individually when they are on either side of the fireplace, and then I step back to look at them as a whole. I want them to complete each other but also be able to stand on their own. It’s all about balance.” – Kristine Metcalf, stylist


It’s important to consider your space before choosing pieces for shelving. In this particular space, we had quite a bit of color throughout the room, so we wanted to keep the shelf decor neutral and simple.

“We picked these pieces knowing there was a white backdrop, and knowing there was no closed cabinetry. I needed to think of a storage solution, and the baskets on the bottom provided the perfect weight and color to pull the look together.” -Kristine Metcalf, stylist

Styling Long Open Shelves


When we don’t have barriers from cabinets, we make sure we group strategically to avoid making the shelves look too uniform.

“If we drew a line down the middle of the shelves, I want the objects to cross over that line to break things up. That’s where groups or clusters of objects come in to play. For example, we used this wooden wand on the top right of one of the shelves, but it didn’t fill the space enough to cross the barrier. When we clustered it with another one, it felt balanced.” – Kristine Metcalf

Styling Long Open Shelves


Blending textures and colors can be tricky, but it helps to try to create diagonal lines to avoid too much of the same thing in one area.

“Originally there was two brass objects on the same plane. I didn’t notice it until I took a photo of it. The brown of the wood, the terra-cotta and the brass object all looked like too much of one color, so I ended up switching one of them for a black, sculptural object and it just balanced it more.” – Kristine Metcalf, stylist

Styling Long Open Shelves


Not only do we break up tones and textures, but we also break up styles.

“It’s important to give things room to breathe. I like mixing statement pieces with more practical moments. A sculpture next to some old stacked books or a pretty door stopper, or a leaned frame next to some greenery, those juxtapositions brings depth.” – Kristine Metcalf, stylist

Another good way to do this is by mixing modern pieces with vintage pieces. We do this in nearly all of our projects with built-ins and furniture alike.

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Date Posted
24 February 2020